Tuesday, February 23, 2016


by Barry Basden

How did I get to be a writer? I often wonder how I got to be anything. It all seems like a kind of dreamy accident.

My early years were chaotic, eight or nine different schools in twelve years. Read a lot. Hung around with poets and actors and other loners in high school. After graduating in Houston, I bounced around the country. Lived near MacArthur Park in LA. Rode a Greyhound to New York. Clerked. Drank. Spent a lot of time in the Village, but made sure I read for three hours every day—Faulkner, Hemingway, Wolfe, etc.—trying to educate myself.

Hitchhiked back to Texas. No trade, still clerking, I took freshman English at night. The teacher was an alcoholic, a former English professor at Notre Dame, but by then just an adjunct trying to get his life back together. He used to sip ginger ale with a bunch of us while we drank and listened to him in a quiet bar after class. He seemed to know everything I wanted to learn, very supportive, urged me to write about NYC, saw that I was published in the school magazine. My writing, raw and terribly derivative of the Beats, gained some notoriety in that west Texas town. The best teachers are often the kindest and I remember Mr. Mooney fondly all these years later.

I scraped by on the fringes and learned “join the army if you fail” long before Dylan sang about it. I served in the Far East and Central America, but missed Vietnam. Barely. Cosmic luck. Somewhere in there I wrote 25,000 words of a novel that just petered out. I volunteered for straight midnight shifts at my radio site and took evening courses before work. Out of curiosity I enrolled in an accounting class. The teacher was an air force captain who told stories about auditing officers' clubs and supply systems and catching thieves. I found it interesting, just the sort of high class trade I was looking for, something I thought I might actually be able to do.

I finished school on the GI Bill, 3 years in 18 months, top accounting grad, a piece of cake because all I had to do was go to class and do the assignments. I became a CPA and spent several years auditing youth training centers, wildlife refuges, and Indian affairs throughout the West, trying to make the world a little better place.

Then I worked for years as a financial manager for the military in Europe. There I found Annie Proulx's Heart Songs and Carver's What We Talk About. I now know that Gordon Lish had a lot to do with why I couldn't read Carver's book without weeping.

After I retired, I did oral histories for a WWII museum, writing up war stories that got filed away in dusty archives. That's how I met Charlie Scheffel, a combat infantry officer who fought in North Africa and Europe. I found his story riveting and it eventually became Crack! and Thump, published in 2007. The book still gets nice reviews on Amazon. It's actually a memoir in flash and writing it helped me find my natural way to tell stories.

I began to read and write flash and micro fiction and later founded Camroc Press Review that focused on stories under 500 words. I couldn’t seem to get enough of it and ran CPR for 7 years before closing down last year.

I keep plugging away at my own stuff. I’m not prolific by any means, but I’ve turned out a couple hundred flashes, some of it collected, with a chapbook related to war coming out perhaps this summer. I love trying to hone a story down to its essence. It's something I hope to spend the rest of my life doing, happy that my long strange journey has led me to such a perfect place.


Barry Basden lives in the Texas hill country with his wife and two yellow Labs. He is coauthor of Crack! and Thump: With a Combat Infantry Officer in World War II. His shorter work has been published widely, both online and in print. His latest flash collection is Wince. You can also read Ray's People here.

MacArthur Park Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMacarthur_Park.jpg"Macarthur Park" by Wurzeller at English Wikipedia - Self-photographed. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: No More Hawaiian Punch Notebooks For Me

by Bud Smith

I remember driving very fast down Double Trouble Road in Berkley Township. There had been a forest fire a few years before and all the pines were charred. But there was new sprigs of green coming up out of the last of the dirty snow and I didn’t have a job, I was in love. This is when I decided I was going to write a novel.

My brother was in the hospital because he'd fallen off the back of a garbage truck and landed in a giant slush puddle.

I didn't know how bad he was hurt, just that he'd gotten hurt at work and I had to sign the release forms at the ER for him, or maybe he just needed a ride. I don't remember.

Double Trouble Road is just two lanes and there's usually no one on it so you can drive as fast as you want. Around 80mph I decided when I got back to my room downstairs I was going to make a real novel.

I’d written them in notebooks since I was fourteen. But I’d never learned how to type and now I didn’t give a shit anymore. I was going to type out the novel, skip the notebook. All the notebooks in all my life have never gone anywhere. They’ve just gotten Hawaiian Punch spilled on them or left out in the rain on a picnic table and that’s that.

My father had found a computer at the township dump and he figured out how to put a new motherboard in it, and he gave me the computer. And he gave me a garbage dump keyboard. And a garage dump mouse. And I took the shitty formica desk from upstairs because they were going to throw it away, smashed off the top hutch and made it a computer desk. I’ve still got that here actually, I’m sitting at it right now, 13 years later. On 173rd Street and Haven Ave. in Washington Heights, NYC. Year of our Lord 2016.

When I got to the ER, Year of Our Lord 2003, my brother was wheeled out by an orderly and he was holding this big plastic bag on his lap.

"What happened?”

He started to tell me this story: "I was jumping over this slush puddle and my foot slipped when I landed on the back of the truck and ... I cracked my head on the road and I was laying in this icy ass puddle and this old lady opened the door and said 'don't move you might have a spine injury I'll call an ambulance'.

"What's in the bag?"

"My trench coat."

The orderly busted out laughing and I started laughing too and my brother was pissed.

In the car on the way back to the house I think I told him that I was going to write a novel and he was looking out the window still really pissed off at me.

We were on Double Trouble Road again and I was driving very fast again. Pretty much the only road I ever drive recklessly on back in my hometown was that road.

Except this other time when I was thinking about buying the car I have now, and I wanted to take it for a test drive but my brother is much more mechanical than me so he went along for the ride and it was pouring rain and I got that car up to 125 mph on a rain slick road and my brother said, "Please slow down you're going to get us fucking killed.”

"I'm just testing it out ..."

"Well don't ..."

"Seeing what it can do."

"Take me home.”

I did write that novel. I came home from the hospital and I started that night. I was laid off of work at the time and I didn't have to go to sleep. And back then everything was new to me and I didn't know a single rule, I liked to drink Seagrams Seven and ginger ale. I’m glad I didn’t learn too many of those rules. I’m happy they still make Seagrams Seven and they still make Ginger Ale.

I just wrote and wrote and wrote and it was all garbage.
But Jesus, I had the best time.

When the novel was done, I was cool with being done too. I didn't edit it past a first draft. I didn't submit it to any publishing houses. I went to Staples and I got one copy of the book printed out and bound with rings. Cost me $22 or something silly.

I looked at it and said, "Fucking A, I wrote a book."

I remember it snowed really hard and my friend who was living in Seaside Heights called me up on the phone to come over and eat painkillers with him, so I hopped in my car and drove across the bridge all icy like the end of the world and when I got to my friend's apartment there was nowhere to park on the street, so I put the car on this little basketball court that was around the corner because I figured no one was going to play basketball with the court that iced over. I guess the cops figured that too because they didn't give me any tickets, which was strange because pretty much anytime I ever went to Seaside Heights, I got a ticket. Once I got two tickets and one must have blown away and I got my license suspended for not paying the other one.

When I walked up to my friend's door he'd grown a beard and I guess so had I, so it looked like something you just automatically did when you turned 20, no matter who you are. We sat on his couch and he asked what was new and I said, "My brother fell off the back of a garbage truck and got hurt pretty bad and I wrote a novel.”

"Holy shit, bro! You wrote a novel? You're gonna get fucking rich.”

"Oh definitely."

"R, I, C, H."

We celebrated our good fortune that there were five Yuengling beers in the fridge and one Rolling Rock and the Chinese food place down the block would still deliver no matter how close the apocalypse came to the edge of the cave.  And we took the painkillers and watched TV, and it was a Wednesday with nothing at stake and life was good.


Bud Smith wrote the novels F 250, Tollbooth and I'm From Electric Peak. He works heavy construction in NJ. budsmithwrites@gmail.com 

Here's two stories I like:

Tiger Blood at Hobart

JANT at Monkeybicycle 


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Syntax makes me hot

 by Sally Reno

It took 3 days to read on radio
I have always written short. I remember, before I was school-aged, composing little notes. As soon as I knew the alphabet, I had things to say. Very short things. This because my method was to ask my mother to spell out for me aloud the words I wanted. I somehow sensed that she was not going to be willing to spell me through anything like a Russian novel.

By 17, I was writing and publishing what would be called flash fiction today. The peculiarity of this was noted, but not always reviled. There was a lot more experimenting with form then than there is now.
“To irony, ambiguity, and tension--Andother things I do not wish to mention.”
~Kenneth Koch 
At Columbia University, I was fortunate in being able to take a poetry writing class with Kenneth Koch, a thing well known to be a life changing experience. He taught us never to undervalue either simplicity or surprise.

Lady Murasaki composes flash fiction circa 1000 C.E.
The magic words, “flash fiction” came along only recently, but people have always written very short fiction. The form has a history millennia longer than the long forms like novels. Romans of the classical age, early medieval Japanese court ladies, and 17th century Frenchwomen have been especial masters of the craft.

The next issue of blink-ink print, coming in early April and themed, “Mystery Train” will lead off with a 40-word microfiction by Petronius Arbiter, written about 54 A.D. Petronius lived in Cumae and had been to see the Cumaean Sybil. He constructed a couple of stellar sentences about the experience. When, eventually, he built a scene in the Satyricon around them, the purport of the scene was to make fun of anyone who would say anything so preposterous as those two sentences. Yet, they remain one of the best pairs of sentences in all of literature.

I love sentences. Most writers will tell you they love words. Words are good, but sentences are the bees’ knees. Syntax makes me hot.

I have been a hired-gun writer most of my working life and have only gotten back to writing the things I wish to say in the last decade or so.

I began as a political speechwriter, which was my introduction to writing comedy. A joke I wrote for the Mayor of NYC to tell on The Tonight Show provoked more hate mail than anything the show had received up to that point—an early career triumph that I am unlikely to live long enough to top.

I am also a radio-head, another exercise in writing short best defined as getting to the point immediately or sooner. It also teaches the difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear.

The Mayor tells a joke.
The best radio also breaks the waves of form. At WBAI, we read every word of War and Peace on-air. This was accomplished by relays of readers working around the clock. My best recollection is that it took about three days. We also pioneered naked radio, claiming to be broadcasting with no clothes on. We invited listeners to come down to the studio, take off their clothes and join us. It was a fine measure of living in heady times that so many people took us up on that offer.

This was before the corporate Kraken crushed the life out of broadcasting, but even then, the commercial spots were heinous. The effect of that, in legal language, was that of an ‘attractive nuisance’—something I could not resist messing with. To my knowledge, I was the first (and probably the last) to write and produce radio commercials that exploited multi-tracking capabilities around tiny whacked stories.  I recorded 30 and 60 second stories with bed music and the commercial message woven through them on side and travel tracks. Thus, I learned what is actually at stake when we say, “in a minute.”

Perhaps because of time spent telling other people’s stories, I like to throw some elbows in my writing. I like it even better when I hit something.

I am among those writers who need to get a first line down in order to release the goat pen of babble. That first line is often the first line of the finished piece but not always. Sometimes that first sentence is entirely gone when the piece is finished---the sacrificial sentence. I suppose this amounts to being mostly muse-driven. As such I don’t benefit from disciplines like writing at the same time every day or setting a daily quota of words or pages. Sometimes a whole piece will leap from my head fully-formed. Only the white goddess knows why.

See Sally Reno in action at the January F-Bomb event: MOUTH CRIMES with Gay Degani and hosted by Kathy Fish:


Sally Reno’s fiction has been among the winners of  National Public Radio’s Three Minute Fiction Contest, Moon Milk Review’s Prosetry Contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in a vaporish grotto where she serves as Pythoness to blink-ink print and Haruspex for Shining Mountains Press.

Author photo by Jesse Coley